ATHENS — Georgia football isn’t the only program that woke up Saturday morning wondering what might have been with JT Daniels.
Daniels has sparked the No. 8-ranked Bulldogs’ offense like no other, the team averaging more than 41 points and nearly 500 yards the last three games with him under center.
It was exactly what Georgia coach Kirby Smart expected when he added Daniels in May and would have put on the field for the pivotal showdown with Florida had the transfer’s rehabilitated right knee proved a tad more mobile at that stage of the season.
JT Daniels steps into SEC Network spotlight, revealing appearance
Several at USC were wishing Daniels was still on the field for them on Friday night, as the previously unbeaten Trojans fell to Oregon 31-24 in the Pac-12 title game with QB Kedon Slovis picked off three times.
It wasn’t so long ago that Daniels became only the second true freshman in USC history to start a season opener for the Trojans at quarterback under center, leading an up-and-down 2018 campaign in what should have been his senior season at Mater Dei High School.
The stage was set for Daniels to take off in 2019 under new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, but when he suffered a torn ACL in the second quarter of the season opener, his season was done and Slovis stepped in and had great success.
Daniels went looking for a new opportunity last spring, and after considering Washington, Michigan, and Tennessee — among others — chose Smart and the new-look offensive scheme.
Daniels, a former 5-star and Gatorade National Player of the Year when he led his high school team to the 2017 national championship, has been everything is was supposed to be.
Per PFF advanced metrics, Georgia has an explosive play percentage of 23.9 that ranks No. 1 in the SEC and No. 2 among Power 5 schools with Daniels under center. Before? the Bulldogs were at 14.9 percent, just seventh in the SEC.
The Bulldogs are converting 66 percent on third down (24-of-36) with Daniels under center — a stunning figure when one considers Alabama led the nation at 59 percent entering Saturday’s action, and UGA was at 42 percent the first six games without Daniels.
Daniels has thrown six touchdown passes on third down — but only three incompletions — an eye-popping 16-of-19 for 270 yards and the six TD passes.
And before anyone points to the schedule, it’s worth noting the average third-down defense rank of the past three opponents is 10 spots higher than the first six entering Saturday’s action.
Had Georgia played 0-9 Vanderbilt on Saturday as scheduled — the Commodores backed out — Daniels’ numbers would be even more impressive.
Daniels played only three games for the Bulldogs, but what if he had played a full season?
Here’s how Daniels number would have PROJECTED (3.3 multiplier) over the course of a 10-game schedule compared to the current numbers of Heisman Trophy frontrunners Mac Jones, Kyle Trask and Trevor Lawrence
Player Comp-Att -(Pct.) YDS TD-Int Rating
Mac Jones 217-284(.764) 3321 27-3 203.90
Kyle Trask 259-369(.701) 3717 40-5 187.87
JT Daniels 180-270 (.667) 2796 30-3 187.87
T.Lawrence 216-313 (.680) 3039 25-4 174.88
If there’s a takeaway from those numbers, it’s that Georgia will be throwing the ball more next season with Daniels expected to return for another season.
Smart has said that explosive players matter more to him than balance, and now that Daniels has proven he can take care of the football, the head coach is more apt to turn him loose.
The Bulldogs bring back arguably the best collection of receiving targets in George Pickens, Jermaine Burton, Dominick Blaylock, Kearis Jackson and blossoming tight end Darnell Washington.
There’s a chance UGA might also add LSU opt-out former Marietta star Arik Gilbert, who many believe will soon enter into the NCAA transfer portal.
As for Daniels, two fanbases can only wonder what their season would have looked like with him on the field.